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When Dana Vollmer watches a replay of one of her races, she usually feels the nervous intensity all over again. But when she saw the footage of the U.S. women's world-record-breaking Olympic medley relay at the Golden Goggles awards in November, she found herself laughing along with relay mates Rebecca Soni, Allison Schmitt and Missy Franklin. "All the memories that came back to me were funny instead of intense," says Vollmer (second from right).
If there was a defining characteristic of this swim team beyond striking success—the eight gold medals (of 15 total) represented the best Olympic performance by the U.S. women swimmers since 1984—it was a spirit of sororal fun and connection. This sense of camaraderie was no accident. Serving as the first female head coach for the U.S. women, Cal coach Teri McKeever, a two-time Olympic assistant, brought different priorities to preparation than her male predecessors. "Teri has always had a unique understanding of how women process stress and anxiety," says Vollmer. "Her team meetings created a really safe place for women to be themselves."
The U.S. women felt at home in the pool, too, where one standout performance inspired the next. "It was like every day somebody said, It's my turn now," says McKeever. And so the hardware piled up, in no small part because 2012 was finally McKeever's turn.
Serena Williams, Tennis
History will recall that Williams won two gold medals at the London Olympics in women's tennis. For most of the event, though, she was playing a wholly different sport from her opponents. While they were stroking the ball, Serena was pummeling it, as though harboring a personal grudge against yellow felt. While they maneuvered around the grass of the All England Club, Serena dashed and slid. While they merely competed, she played with an imperiousness that said, Kids, get off my lawn.
In the previous month she'd won Wimbledon for the fifth time; in the subsequent one she'd win her fourth U.S. Open. But at the Olympics Serena played what may have been the most comprehensively dominating tennis of her career.
As ever, Williams's achievements came with a side order of controversy. After humiliating Maria Sharapova in the gold medal match, she unleashed a Crip Walk on the vaunted Centre Court grass. The hidebound types were quick to throw around the dis words—disrespect, disgrace, disappointment. For the rest of us it was a reminder of what we've long suspected: Serena has always conducted business on her terms, indifferent to convention, making concessions to no one. And when she's finally done, we'll forget the inane cause célèbres and the lapses in decorum, and simply acknowledge her as the greatest ever.
—L. Jon Wertheim